History of Vampires In Halloween and Horror

The Vampire is another stalwart of Halloween and Gothic Horror culture.

The Vampire story is present in many cultures from many eras. The image usually has to do with the fact that even ancient cultures associated blood with life. Many of the early stories have to do with female vampires sucking the blood of children.

Ancient Greeks had stories of a Vampire-like creature called Lamiae, who attacked children and drank their blood. Ghouls in the Arabian Knights stories have definite Vampire like tendencies. Chinese vampires were called Chiang-Shih; Vampires show up in the Vedas of India. Meso Americans, especially the Maya and Aztecs have their own versions.

There is even a possible Vampire in the Old Testament: Lilith, who is described in Hebrew texts.

Our own popular Halloween and horror images of the Vampires, however, come mostly from Eastern Europe. The word Vampire apparently comes from the Hungarian word for a spirit who feasts on the living: vampyr.

While the concept of a monster rising from the grave to feast on the blood of humans seems ridiculous to modern man, in the past, the world was a much more mysterious place. Lack of scientific and medical knowledge may well have contributed to a belief in the undead.

One source of the legend may well have come from the medieval practice of digging up burial grounds either to reuse the consecrated ground for new burials, or – strangely, to use as garbage dumps. The bones of the disinterred often were cleaned and moved to reliquaries, where they were piled with the bones of others long gone. (There are vast catacombs under Paris full of bones from reused gravesites).

While digging up these graves, the workers cannot have failed to notice that some showed definite signs of activity after burial. Scratch marks on the lids of the coffins … bodies that had changed their position.

To the superstitious mind, this could be evidence of the undead. After all, they were certainly dead when they were buried.

Or were they? It is often difficult to tell – even with modern medicine – when a person is really, truly dead. Stories in the media still surface about people who woke up just as an autopsy was about to begin (or worse, in the middle of one), or who were delivered to the mortuary only to revive just as preparations were underway. The stuff of horror, indeed.

So the rational explanation is that people were sometimes – perhaps often – mistakenly buried alive.

Fear of being buried alive led to a number of customs that persist to this day: After a person died, relatives would gather at the house to maintain a prayer vigil and a watch over the body, which was held in the front room, or parlor of the house (thus, funeral parlors).

This practice of watching over the body was known as holding a wake. Wake is related to the word “watch.” Another explanation for the word, which is widely circulated, is that people would wait for the deceased to “wake.”

Interestingly, there are several inventions registered in the US Patent office for notifying those above ground that the person in the coffin had awakened. (The simplest thing to do today would be to bury people with fully charged cell phones).

One interesting story – probably apocryphal – says that people would run a string from the coffin to a bell on the surface. If the person awakened, all he had to do was pull on the string, and the bell would ring, letting people know that he was still alive. Some scholars have cited this as the origin of the term “saved by the bell.”

But if the person awakened in the middle of the night, there would be no one to hear it. This problem apparently was solved by hiring village boys to sit in the graveyard for a couple of days after a burial to listen for ringing. The boys were said to be working the “graveyard shift.”

The above story should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s interesting to think about.

Another thing that the gravediggers may have noticed about the disinterred bodies is that their hair and nails appeared to have grown, and their teeth seemed longer. While it may have been mistaken for signs of the undead, such growth is the normal result of tissue shrinkage and decomposition.

Mysterious deaths and unknown diseases may also have contributed to belief in Vampires. Some have suggested that early outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague or a hemorrhagic virus may have started such stories. Both could result in horrible, bloody deaths.

And if the mysterious death came on the heels of a stranger visiting town (presumably bringing an infection with him), superstitious imagination could run wild.

Imagine this situation: A stranger comes to your village. A few days later, he gets sick and dies, with blood at the mouth, and strange pustules on his body. The villagers bury him in the local cemetery. A few days later, another person in the village gets sick and dies with the same symptoms of the stranger … and then another … and another. With no knowledge about the spread of disease, it becomes obvious that evil forces are at work, and that the stranger is the culprit. The villagers disinter his body and burn it, along with the bodies of the other victims. Then, on the advice of the local priest, they also burn the huts of the victims. The deaths stop.

Obviously, fire cleansed the village of the evil spirits. Now everyone knows that you can kill a vampire with fire.

Of course, we know that the fire would have destroyed the source of the germs. But remember that it was not until 1677 that Anthony Leeuwenhoek first even observed bacteria, which he called Little Animals.

The rare disorder Porphyria also has been suggested as a source of the Vampire legend. Porphyria, an inherited disease can cause a number of interesting symptoms, including seizures, and mental illness such as hallucinations, depression and paranoia. It can also cause skin issues, such as photosensitivity, blisters, itching and swelling. Interestingly, the main issue with porphyria is lack of production of heme, the principal ingredient of blood.

The sources for individual elements of vampire lore in modern horror and at Halloween are varied. The idea that a Vampire can be killed by driving a stake through his heart is almost certainly related to the idea that the heart is the source of life.

A Vampire’s allergic reaction to sunlight can possibly be traced to light sensitivity caused by certain rare diseases, such as porphyria. It may also be as simple as the connection that vampires are evil, and evil is associated with darkness.

The idea that Vampires are repelled by garlic may come from the time of the Black Death, when the stench of the bodies of the victims became overwhelming. People would suspend cloves of garlic around their necks to block out the smell.

It apparently was also thought that it was the smell of the decomposing victims that spread the disease. So, blocking the smell could prevent the Plague; and wearing garlic could repel Vampires.

An interesting side note to this involves the children’s nursery rhyme Ring Around The Roses. One explanation suggests that it’s actually about the plague. The imagery of rings and roses (skin lesions), pockets full of posies (to cover the stench of the dead), ashes (of the burned dead; or, alternately, the sound of the sneezing victims) and falling down (dead), seems to some to fit. Others claim it’s just a nonsense rhyme.

A vampire’s allergy to silver could come from the fact that silver is a white precious metal – pure, and therefore repulsive to evil. (Presumably, the same would be true of platinum). The idea that a vampire doesn’t appear in a mirror may also be related, since mirrors are pieces of glass backed by silver. In the same way, vampires won’t show up on traditional film, since the photoreactive element in film is silver.

Horror literature, movies and modern Halloween imagery have borrowed heavily from all these elements in creating the Vampire as we know it.

In 1897, Bram Stoker successfully combined many of these Eastern European legends into his novel, Dracula. His is the iconic image that has shaped much of our modern horror literature, movies and Halloween themes. Later writers such as Stephen King in Salem’s Lot and Anne Rice with her Interview with the Vampire have kept many of the same classic horror images, but have reimagined them in original ways.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:23:38.

Real Vampires? Vampiric Figures In History and Halloween

Vampires figure prominently in horror literature and movies, and in Halloween imagery. Are there any real Vampires? Probably not, but there have been a number of historical and criminal cases involving murderers who drank the blood of their victims.

The infamous Geoffrey Dahmer is a good modern example. John George Haigh (High), the infamous Acid Bath Murderer of England also was accused of drinking his victims’ blood. Haigh was executed in England in 1949. And in the 1920s, a German butcher named Fritz Haarmann (also spelled Fritz Harmon)apparently murdered his victims with a bite to the neck before turning them into sausage.

Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary (1560 – 1614) is a historical figure who probably provides the basis for many Vampire legends. In 1610, Bathory was caught in the act of torturing several young girls and subsequently was charged – along with four co-conspirators – with the mass murder of hundreds more. As the legend has it, Bathory both drank and bathed in the blood of young girls in an attempt to stay forever young. Because she was nobility, Bathory escaped execution, and was instead walled up in a room in her own castle, where she died three years later.

But the most famous of historical “vampires” was Vlad III , a Romanian nobleman who lived from 1431 to 1476. Vlad, also known as “Tepes” (Impaler) was the governor of a strategically placed kingdom on the borders between Moslem Turkey and Christian Europe. Depending upon the source, the kingdom is identified as either Transylvania or Wallachia. He was known as the Son of the Dragon (Dracula), a reference to his father’s position as a Knight of the Order of the Dragon.

In a precarious position in a brutal time, Vlad quickly gained a reputation for ruthlessness and cruelty. He led frequent raids into Turkish territory, burning crops and poisoning wells. Vlad also had a nasty habit of impaling his enemies and prisoners on high stakes, thus gaining his nickname Vlad The Impaler.

There are many legends about Vlad’s excesses. In one, he is said to have invited a collection of his political enemies to a meeting at his castle. Vlad then locked the doors and burned it to the ground with his rivals inside.
When an Ottoman ambassador refused to remove his turban, Vlad had it nailed to the poor man’s head.

And then there were forests of bodies throughout the countryside, impaled high on stakes.

There is no way of knowing how many of these stories are true. But that there are so many of them suggests that his cruelty was more than propaganda.

Although the circumstances of his death are fuzzy, it is thought that Vlad died in battle with the Turks. Legend has it that his head was sent as a gift to the Sultan of Turkey.

Others say that he was killed by the Hungarians, who buried him. But later, when his body was exhumed, the tomb was empty.

Today, ironically, Vlad Tepes is a folk hero to many in that part of the world.

Bram Stoker apparently rediscovered Vlad Dracula while researching vampire lore for a planned novel on vampires. The Transylvanian prince eventually became the central figure in the novel that bears his name: Dracula. The novel was published in 1897.

Many of the elements of the vampire story seem to have been invented by Stoker, including the idea that vampires can change into things like bats. Certainly Stoker created the idea of the Vampire as a sort of sexual predator. Since then novelists and Hollywood have further manipulated Vampire lore, adding and subtracting elements as necessary to fit the plot.

It’s interesting to note that one of the key themes of the novel Dracula seems to be that science does not always have the answer to our problems. The (mortal) characters in the novel are surrounded by (what was then) modern technology – railroads, phonographs and the like – but it is something out of myth and superstition that threatens them.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:18:09.

The Halloween History of the Frankenstein Monster

The limits of science – both actual and ethical – provides the theme for another of the elements of modern Halloween and horror imagery: that of the man-made monster.

The idea that man can be threatened by – even destroyed by – his own creations is an old one. The Jewish folktale of the Golem tells of a priest who created a servant out of clay (much as God created Adam out of clay). To activate the Golem, the priest wrote the word “Emeth” (life) on its forehead. Things work out for a while, but eventually the Golem rebels and the priest is forced to destroy it. He tricks it into bending over so that he can erase the “E”, converting the word to “meth” (death). The Golem immediately melts back into a large lump of clay, killing the priest.

Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is the classic of the genre – and one that provides seemingly endless Halloween fun. No set of Halloween decorations is complete without at least one flat headed, green monster with bolts in its neck.

In Shelley’s novel, Victor Von Frankenstein is a doctor who becomes obsessed with the secrets of life. Through the course of his experiments, he steals body parts and brings to life a creature, which remains nameless throughout the novel.

Note here that, despite what popular culture would have us believe, the creature’s name is not “Frankenstein” or (worse) “Frankie.” Frankenstein is the name of the Doctor. Shelley apparently declined to give the creature a name to emphasize the idea that it has no place in God’s plan. The monster, however, in several places compares himself to the biblical Adam, telling Frankenstein “I ought to be thy Adam.”

Several authors have taken this to indicate that the creature’s name was indeed “Adam.”

Of course, not all goes well with the creature. It is rejected by its creator – Frankenstein – and left to its own devices. Eventually, it returns to Frankenstein to demand that he make a suitable mate. When Frankenstein fails to do so, the monster destroys his family. Frankenstein then sets out to destroy his own creation.

Since its publication – just before Shelley’s 21st birthday – the story of Frankenstein has been told and retold in hundreds of plays, movies, comics and novels. Most got it all wrong and missed the main points of the novel.

It’s also worth noting that the creature in the novel looks nothing like the square-headed, bolt-necked being from the 1931 Universal Pictures movie. That image of the monster was created by Hollywood makeup man Frank Pierce for actor Boris Karloff, who has become the definitive Frankenstein.

Here’s how Shelley describes him:

<blockquote>His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.</blockquote>

Some more recent films have tried to more accurately recreate Shelley’s original image. But they weren’t particularly successful. Karloff’s portrayal of the monster is the definitive one for our time.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:15:56.

The Halloween History of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The theme of science gone amok is pervasive in 19th and 20th Century Horror and Halloween iconography.

Another work of fiction that explored the idea of science gone amok is Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this, Dr. Jekyll creates a formula that separates man’s good aspect from his bad. Testing the potion on himself, he eventually finds himself turning uncontrollably into the evil Mr. Hyde when he is angered or stressed.

Two of the more famous legacies of the Jekyll and Hyde story are the comic book characters “Hulk” and “Two-Face.”

Both Frankenstein and Jekyll clearly are the main sources of that Halloween and Hollywood staple: The Mad Scientist. In the best of these stories (such as The Fly and others), the scientist intrudes on THINGS MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW, and the results are inevitably bad.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:11:49.

Aliens In Horror Movies

Many of the monster movies of the past 40 years also dwell on the themes of the consequences of science. And these monsters are increasingly incorporated into our Hollywood lore.

Godzilla, for example is apparently the result of a nuclear test, as are the giant ants in Them. It’s no accident that Godzilla comes from Japan – the only country to have been hit with a nuclear weapon.

The many aliens that now populate Halloween and Horror imagery offer a variation on the science-gone-amok-theme. The superior technology of the inhabitants of flying saucers is another instance of how we are threatened by science, but in this case, a science far greater than our own.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:06:58.

Robots In Horror and Halloween Legend

Killer robots are another being from the realms of science fiction that have found their way into the Gothic Horror and Halloween lexicon. No Halloween night is complete anymore without at least one robot, constructed of cardboard boxes and tinfoil has found its way to your door.

Robot comes from the Czech word Robota, meaning worker. It was first used to refer to artificial men in Karel Capek’s 1920 play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). In the play, robots destroy humanity after being given souls, which allow them to behave more like humans (now there’s a chilling commentary).

But Capek’s robots were not the first mechanical men in literature. Greek mythology tells of a bronze automaton named Talos. The aforementioned Golem is a sort of mechanical man. And the beloved Oz stories by L. Frank Baum feature any number of mechanical men, including the Tin Woodman, Tik-Tok and a mechanical giant which guards the entrance to the kingdom of the Nomes. And of course, there are the robots in Fritz Lang’s 1927 cinematic masterpiece, Metropolis.

Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov coined the term “robotics” in his 1941 short story, “Liar!.” That also was the story in which he created the now-well-known “Three Laws of Robotics”, which state:
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Of course, not all robots follow these laws; some have never even heard of them. Without feelings, they proceed according to a logic all of their own. And that is what makes them so scary. Robots are cold and unfeeling. You can’t appeal to their emotions. They don’t care if you beg. Worse, their hydraulic systems make them inhumanly strong and fast.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of robotic horror can be found in James Cameron’s Terminator trilogy (1984’s The Terminator, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). In the trilogy, a global computer system rebels against its human creators and unleashes mechanical horrors bent on the destruction of man. A similar theme is found in the Matrix trilogy.

Robots occupy much the same place in our modern imagination that the undead and other horrors occupied in the superstitious minds of our ancestors. Just as demonic horrors are unfeeling and unstoppable, so too are robots. It’s just that robots are more believable to the modern mind.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:03:14.

The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos

The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos

Another relative newcomer to the Halloween scene is the psycho / serial killer. Popularized by film series such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, they reflect any number of modern fears – just as ghost stories reflected the fears of times past. In a way, they ARE our ghost stories.

Consider the ghostlike qualities of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s classic movie Halloween. He slips, unseen, from location to location. He’s always ready to manifest himself at the worst possible time. And, as it turns out in the innumerable sequels, he is just this side of immortal.

Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street take it even closer to the ghost story. Freddy is the spirit of a dead child killer who manifests himself in teen aged dreams.

The frightening qualities of these Halloween horror movie serial killers is made real by the knowledge that there there doesn’t seem to be any end to man’s inhumanity to man. And the media just serve to amplify those fears with their constant coverage of sensational crime.

The original media superstar killer was Jack The Ripper. In the year 1888 in London, the “Ripper” murdered at least six women in grisly fashion (some claim that he murdered as many as 15, but the other victims are not “official”). Some of the women were prostitutes – all were less than desirable denizens of the seedy Whitechapel neighborhood. Then, as soon as the murders started, they ended, leaving the police empty handed. The murders remain unsolved to this day.

The Ripper’s name comes from a letter that he sent to the police, taunting them and containing the signature “Jack The Ripper.”

In their time, the Ripper murders created a media storm, with newspapers covering every aspect of the gruesome killings. The social status of the victims just made the whole thing more salacious.

It’s probably not a coincidence that, in the Halloween horror slasher movies, the bad girls die early, and the good one generally is left standing – if somewhat bloodied – at the end.

Another famous slasher killer from history is Lizzie Borden. After her parents were hacked to death with an axe in August, 1892, Lizzie, a 32-year-old spinster was charged with the murder. The trial became a media circus; Lizzie was eventually exonerated. But not before she became enshrined in history with the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty one.

Of all the historical serial killers, perhaps none has had as much of an influence on fiction as Ed Gein. In the 1950s, Gein, who lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin, committed a series of gruesome and bizarre murders at his rural farmhouse. His crimes eventually became – at least in part – the basis for the movies Psycho, the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the character Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. You can see photos of Ed Gein’s House of Horrors here.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being safe anywhere. Fear of those without “our” morals – or without any morals at all. All of these are why serial killers are such effective Halloween horror icons. While we know that ghost and vampires are figments of our imagination, we know that serial killers are all too real.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:00:28.

The Halloween History of Werewolves

The Halloween History of Werewolves

Werewolves occupy another central place in Halloween lore.

The idea of a half-man, half-beast, or of a person who can turn into a beast is pretty much universal. Every culture seems to have its beastmen, from the Rakshasa (weretigers) of India, to the Kitsune (werefox) of Japan, the boudas (werehyena) of North Africa, and the skinwalkers of the American southwest.

But for European cultures, the beast that most held the imagination was the wolf. In medieval times, the wolf was the most deadly predator on the European continent (aside from man himself), and single animals – let alone packs – were greatly feared. Wolves are smart, and often would exhibit human-like behavior, laying a trap for their victims, tending to their wounded, and choosing a single mate for life.

There are stories of entire Russian villages being held in their homes for the winter while wolves prowled hungrily outside. To understand the power that the wolf held over the European mind, you need go no further than the Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood and Peter and the Wolf.

So if wolves often exhibited human-like characteristics, it would not take too much of an imaginative leap to suppose that – just maybe – the smartest of them were actually humans in wolf’s guise.

There are various explanations for the term werewolf, but the two most common are that it is derived from the Old English weri and wolf, meaning “wearer of the wolf skin.”, or from the Norse var and wulf, meaning “man wolf.”

Lycanthropy is from the Greek Lykos (wolf) and Anthropos (man). Greek mythology tells the story of Lycaon, who was turned into a wolf after serving human flesh to Zeus.

The Norse probably had a large hand in spreading the werewolf myth throughout Europe. Feared by nearly everyone for their lightening raids and ruthlessness, the Vikings had a class of particularly fierce warriors known as Berserkers. These men wore wolf or bears skins into battle (and little else).

Fear of werewolves seem to have been particularly strong in France and Austria, where a large number of werewolf hunts and trials were held starting in the 1500s. It is said that there were 20,000 werewolf trials during that time in France alone. The French scare seems to have ended when it was decided that the supposed werewolves were merely victims of mental illness. In Austria, the scare ended following a ban on witch hunts and the like by the enlightened Empress Maria Theresa.

One historical incident that always piques the interest of folklorists involved a series of well-documented attacks by a mysterious wolf-like creature in the Gevaudan region of France beginning in 1764. The beast, thought to be a large wolf, attacked both cattle and humans before reportedly being killed by a hermit.

Much of what passes for Halloween werewolf lore today is simply an invention of Hollywood. The 1941 movie starring Lon Chaney as the Wolf Man set the tone for much of what people today “know” about werewolves. Silver bullets, fortune tellers and pentagrams all seem to have come from the minds of Hollywood screenwriters. Curt Siodmak, screenwriter for The Wolf Man even invented the lines that have become so famous: Even a man who is kind at heart and says his prayers at night might become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon shines full and bright.

Wearing a wolf skin, in combination with certain magic rituals, or potions was the favored method of becoming a werewolf. Most of the legends involve people turning into wolves voluntarily. Turning into one after being bitten seems to be pure Hollywood and Halloween legend.

One current explanation for outbreaks of werewolf sightings involves hallucinations caused by eating rye infected with the ergot mold. The Ergot mold, it turns out, can cause hallucinations and mass hysteria (it is possible to derive LSD from ergot). Rye is a grain more commonly found in northern Europe where reports of werewolves were more common.

Others believe that the source of the werewolf legends lies in various diseases or mental illnesses. Rabies, for example can cause behavior changes, light sensitivity and drooling.

Porphyria, which has been said to be a source of the Vampire legends also has been cited as being behind the werewolf legends. A rare disease called hypertrichosis, which causes excessive hair growth over the entire body is yet another culprit.

Finally, modern psychiatry has identified several mental illnesses in which the unfortunate actually believes himself to be transforming into an animal. It’s called Clinical lycanthropy, although it does not always involve wolves.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:54:15.

The Halloween History Of The Mummy

Reanimated mummies are, like the alien me

nace, a more recent Halloween invention – and one that, like the werewolf, owes much of its lore to Hollywood. They’ve now become a staple in modern horror writing and movies.

Mummification has been practiced by a wide variety of cultures throughout history. Mummies are found in China, Japan, Tibet and Peru. Natural (and presumably accidental) mummies have been found in a variety of arid or frigid climates.

The most famous society that engaged in mummification, of course, was that of the Ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians believed that the body was the receptacle for the Ka, which was necessary for the afterlife. Skilled embalmers prepared the body by removing the internal organs, eliminating excess moisture with salts, and then wrapping the body with linens soaked in resin.

Egypt has long fascinated western man. The Romans – especially in the time of Caesar adopted Egyptian themes in their art and architecture. The ancient order of Freemasonry, adopted Egyptian motifs in their organization. The involvement of some of the founding fathers in Freemasonry led to the inclusion of a pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States.

During his expedition to Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte took with him teams of scientists to study the ancient civilization; Napoleon founded the Institut de l’Égypte in Cairo in 1798. It was this Institute that discovered the Rosetta Stone that finally allowed Egyptian writing to be read when it was deciphered in 1822 by Jean-Francois Champollion.

One the mystery of Egyptian writing was unlocked, Egypt became a Victorian era fad. It became fashionable to visit Egypt (Theodore Roosevelt toured Egypt as a child), where tourists picked up innumerable artifacts with which to decorate their homes. In England, public mummy unwappings became a form of entertainment. Some Victorian era religious cults, such as the Order of the Golden Dawn adopted Egyptian motifs in their ceremonies. In 1871, the composer Verdi unveiled the Egyptian themed opera, Aida.

Still, it never seemed to occur to anyone that there might be a reanimated mummy, or a curse of the mummy’s tomb until the publication of an obscure book in 1821 called The Mummy. This was the first use of a mummy in horror literature.

In 1869, Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame, published a book called Lost in A Pyramid: The Mummy’s Curse. In both of these books, the trouble seemingly begins when an Egyptologist lights a burial chamber by burning the resin-laden body of a mummy. But there is no lumbering, murderous mummy to be found. In Alcott’s book, the curse comes from some seeds taken from the tomb.

Interestingly, in one of his travelogues, Mark Twain reported that he observed mummies being used as fuel for steam engines in Egypt. But given Twain’s penchant for exaggeration, it’s probably best not to believe this one.

Following the sinking of the Titanic, rumors circulated that the giant ocean liner was transporting the mummy of a priestess of Amon-Ra.

But the idea of a Mummy’s curse probably didn’t really catch on until Howard Carter’s opened and excavated King Tut’s tomb in 1923. The unexpected death of Lord Carnavon, Carter’s sponsor, two weeks later, immediately gave rise to the idea of a curse.

Carnavon’s death was not so mysterious – even if it was a bit odd. He had been bitten by a mosquito, and then cut the bite while shaving. The wound became infected, and he died of blood poisoning.

It’s weird, but it’s hardly the stuff of a curse. One study showed that of 58 people directly involved in the opening of the tomb, only eight had died within a dozen years of the event. From an actuarial point of view, that’s nothing unusual.

Hollywood, of course, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. In 1932, Universal Pictures released “The Mummy,” starring Boris Karloff. The story involves an ancient Egyptian priest, Im-Ho-Tep, who spends his time over the centuries guarding the mummy of his lost love, Princess Anck-es-en-Amon. When the body of the Princess is taken to England, Im-Ho-Tep (now known as Ardrath Bey), follows and sets about the job of resurrecting her. This, of course, requires the body of living woman.

Rather than an outright, and mysterious curse, Hollywood’s curse of the mummy involves a staggering, unstoppable monster in hot pursuit of a victim. Like his portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster, Boris Karloff’s interpretation of the creature has left an indelible mark on our consciousness.

Today, when a mummy is portrayed in Halloween art and costumes, it is a tall, lumbering figure, arms outstretched, bandages hanging, and fluttering in the air. Pure Karloff. (Real mummies have their arms bandaged to their bodies, and their feet wrapped together. They would have hopped, not walked.)

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:52:14.